The Ravens stand 5-1 going into their bye week but aren’t satisfied after they almost squandered an 18-point lead against the Philadelphia Eagles. From their discontent to Lamar Jackson’s reemergence as a runner, here are five things we learned from a 30-28 win over the Eagles.
The Ravens will go into their bye week as an unsatisfied 5-1 team.
They knew they cut it too close. After chasing Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz all over Philadelphia and taking an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, the Ravens appeared set to cruise home with their fifth double-digit victory in six games. They certainly did not think they’d need a clutch Matthew Judon stop to avoid overtime.
But the offensive inconsistencies that have troubled the Ravens all season came home to roost at Lincoln Financial Field. On their first three drives of the fourth quarter, each a chance to bury the Eagles, they gained a combined 61 yards and held the ball for less than six minutes total. They “shot themselves in the foot,” as right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. described it, with nine offensive penalties, many of them on presnap errors.
The Baltimore defense, dominant in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals and again in the first half against Wentz, played raggedly down the stretch, with missed tackles and blown assignments leading to “way too many big plays,” in coach John Harbaugh’s words.
Of the Eagles' 364 total yards, 164 came on three plays. Another 49 came on an iffy pass interference penalty against cornerback Marcus Peters, who seemed to be sparring 50-50 with Eagles wide receiver Travis Fulgham. All four of those chunk gains led to touchdowns. If Philadelphia receivers had not dropped two other long passes, the final result might have been different.
The Ravens improved to 5-1 going into their bye week with a win Harbaugh said “we’ll be very proud of because it was a fight.” In the broadest terms, they’re where they were supposed to be at this point in the season. But there’s an uneasy feeling around this would-be Super Bowl contender that only deepened with the late-game struggles against an injured, mistake-prone opponent.
A sample of postgame comments from key Ravens:
“We really just stopped ourselves,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said.
“We want to play so much better,” Brown said. “We want to be so much more consistent.”
“A lot of teams in the league would be excited to be 5-1 going into the bye week, but we’re not,” safety DeShon Elliott said. “We expect greatness, and right now, we’re not being great.”
The tone is telling. With a gantlet of playoff-hungry opponents lined up after the bye, starting with the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers the day after Halloween, the Ravens know they must improve to sustain their lofty record.
In a pinch, Lamar Jackson the runner remains the Ravens' deadliest weapon.
We’ve spent so much time discussing Jackson’s refinement as a quarterback that sometimes we forget his runs, designed or otherwise, are the plays that fuel opponents' nightmares.
The Ravens struggled to move the ball against Cincinnati in part because their quarterback, coming off a week in which he missed two practices, ran twice for 3 yards. With Jackson carrying that little, they’re a Ferrari with a flat tire.
The reigning Most Valuable Player was back to form against the Eagles, with a 108-yard rushing performance that included the Ravens' longest play of the game and a late first-down conversion to end Philadelphia’s hopes.
Even Jackson’s best passing play involved sensational running. In the first quarter, he scrambled toward the sideline and stopped on a dime to hold the pass rush in place as he waited for tight end Nick Boyle to release from a block and break free in the end zone.
Opponents have made concerted efforts to keep Jackson from breaking outside runs this season, but he can be just as dangerous when he sells a fake and darts straight up the middle, as he did on a crucial 37-yard touchdown in the third quarter. His two longest gains of the season have come on designed runs through inside gaps.
Jackson is a brilliant all-around player, and it’s understandable that he and his many fans have aimed to silence those who would define him as a run-first quarterback. He isn’t that, but he is a once-in-a-lifetime runner at his position, and the Ravens are best when they don’t leave him in the holster.
The Ravens beat another team with pressure but used a different formula.
If the defining image of the Ravens' win over the Bengals was a defensive back, any defensive back, flying free at rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, Sunday’s win was one for the big guys.
On the Eagles' first play from scrimmage, Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell mauled right guard Jamon Brown and pulled Wentz to the ground for a seven-yard loss. Campbell and his teammates would go on to sack Wentz six times and hit him 16 times, only one of those blows struck by a defensive back.
With nose tackle Brandon Williams on the reserve/COVID-19 list and defensive tackle Derek Wolfe inactive because of a concussion/neck injury, the Ravens were undermanned on the interior. But they overpowered a Philadelphia offensive line that was also ravaged by injury. Brown couldn’t do anything with Campbell, who finished with three sacks and four quarterback hits. And the Ravens received another strong set of performances from edge defenders Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward and Tyus Bowser, who combined for nine quarterback hits.
The Ravens relied on blitzes to generate pressure in 2019 as their defensive linemen consistently struggled to reach the backfield. This was the type of performance they envisioned when they traded for Campbell in the offseason.
We still need to see it against a healthy, top-notch offensive line, but the Ravens have to be thrilled with 13 sacks and 31 quarterback hits over the past two weeks and perhaps more thrilled that they achieved those results with different formulas.
It’s hard to know whether to be worried about the Ravens' raft of penalties.
The Ravens exited the game tied for second in the league in false-start penalties and tied for third in offensive-holding penalties. Those aren’t lists you want to top, but the Ravens did not go in with an overwhelming penalty problem, so it’s possible their performance in Philadelphia was nothing more than an ugly anomaly.
All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley drew four flags (two were declined) after drawing just five all of last season.
Perhaps the Ravens simply went in overeager against an excellent defensive front. Brown, who was whistled for an illegal formation penalty, did not have a clear explanation before watching the game film.
“I’m not going to sit here and blame the [referees] for anything,” he said. “As a player and as a teammate, we’ve just got to do a better job executing [and] making sure we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot.”
“It’s never one thing that you can trace, because every play is different and every alignment is different,” Harbaugh said. “We jumped a couple of times and didn’t line up a couple of times. We had wrong formations where we covered up eligible receivers. Those are the things that really should never happen. We’ll look at those things and keep working on them.”
The decision to bring back Jimmy Smith has quietly proved essential.
Harbaugh listed his veteran cornerback among the standouts from the Eagles game, and Smith’s versatility has been essential to the Ravens weathering the release of Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas III and the season-ending injury to nickel cornerback Tavon Young.
The 32-year-old Smith still holds his own on the outside, especially against tall, physical receivers. But he’s willingly moved all over this season, taking reps at safety and using his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to shadow tight ends. He can’t match teammates Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey when it comes to creating turnovers, but he doesn’t need to. He came into the Eagles game with a top-20 coverage grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
“What he’s had to do in the last, really, year and a half is really dig into the details of the different spots. He’s done a really good job of it. I’m really proud of him,” Harbaugh said last week. “There are not many corners who can … there are some. We know there are some good examples of guys who have done it, even here — all the way back to Rod Woodson and then, of course, Brandon Carr. I don’t think it’s really that normal for guys to make that kind of a … I don’t want to say a move or a switch, because he’s still playing corner, but to expand like that.”
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Smith signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract because he’s comfortable in Baltimore and content to play a multifaceted support role in the twilight of his career. The modest deal was an easy call for the Ravens and Harbaugh, who’s as close to Smith as any player on the team. But given the early-season attrition in the secondary (cornerback Anthony Averett also suffered an injury against the Eagles), Smith has gone from appealing luxury to necessary cog.